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Island Getaways for Vets a 'Click' Away

Island Getaways for Vets a 'Click' Away

Island Getaways for Vets a 'Click' Away | Photo courtesy of Military.com

Bryant Jordan | Military.com

There were no lines when I got to the Veterans Health Administration office.

There also was no one sitting at a desk — merely a sign reading "Click here for Contact Details.” And there was no one moving about anywhere in the building, so far as I could see.

But there was a video screen on the wall with actor Gary Sinise offering support for vets and encouraging them to get help if they’re stressed and have suicidal thoughts. Other walls bore oversized posters touting veteran health care benefits that, with a “click,” reveal additional information. One wall bore a U.S. map that could provide locations of VA facilities, and elsewhere there were posters entitled “VA News” and “The American Veteran,” which were links to additional benefits information.

So, just because I could, I jumped up and sat on top of the desk, then flew around the office, out the door and took in a birds-eye view of the place.

Such is the power of a virtual Veterans Health Administration office, existing as one “island” among many in a digital archipelago called Second Life, a computer-generated world created by Linden Lab of San Francisco. Access to VHA’s Second Life island can be found on its Web site, www.va.gov/health.

“About two years ago we were asked to explore all means of outreach to our veterans,” said Joyce Bounds, director for VHA Web communications in Washington. The emphasis is on the younger vets, she said, who are so used to electronic communications; they looked at the various social media — YouTube, Facebook and the virtual reality worlds of Second Life. The VHA’s virtual world started out as one building, she said, “a two-story home … with VA logos on it, a computer screen you can touch and find out where VA facilities are.”

They would put up press releases on the site and posted a version the GI Bill on what looks like a roll of parchment paper. And when Veterans Day rolled around they put up an American flag that flies in the virtual breeze outside the building.

Especially for younger veterans who’ve grown up accustomed to video games and computer-generated graphics, the virtual world that provides both access and anonymity would seem a great way to get information and help from the VHA.

“Virtual reality is set up for gaming,” Bounds said, "but we found there is a real training opportunity when you work in a simulated environment, you can let people go where and when they want.”

But in the half-dozen visits that Military.com made to VHA’s island, we were the only ones present, with Sinise’s narrative the only sound.


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